Intelligence And Government in Britain And The United States

Title:                      Intelligence And Government in Britain And The United States

Author:                 Philip H.J. Davies

Davies, Philip H. J. (2012). Intelligence And Government in Britain And The United States: A Comparative Perspective. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger

LCCN:    2011036810

JK468.I6 D39 2012


  • v. 1. Evolution of the U.S. intelligence community — v. 2. Evolution of the UK Intelligence Community.


Date Updated:  February 27, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden Peake.[1]

Dr. Philip Davies is the director of the Brunel University Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies in London. He obtained his PhD in sociology in 1997 from Reading University, where he wrote his dissertation, “Organisational Development of Britain’s Secret lntelligence Service 1909-1979.” Since then he has published widely on the intelligence profession. This two-volume comparative treatise is his latest contribution.

The goal of the study “is to try to understand the two systems, and how they have developed, in a comparative context, seeking to comprehend each better by juxtaposing it with the other.” More specifically, Davies asks, since the two systems seek to answer similar problems, “why do they choose almost diametrically opposed solutions to the task … and why is the coordination and management of national intelligence in the United States so much more fraught than in the United Kingdom?” (p. ix) Davies’ formulation of these questions risks a predetermined outcome as the result of confirmation bias, and readers should keep this in mind.

The 24 chapters and more than 800 pages provide a top-down, chronological examination, through the eyes of a political scientist-there are no spy stories here. Davies compares organizational structure and integration, product timeliness and quality, physical separation, size, budget, political systems, staff subordination· and qualifications, security requirements, management, and operational culture-a massive task. In the end, one of his many general conclusions-there are specific ones too-is that a principal difference in the two systems is “the apparent long-term stability and relatively consistently high coordination and integration of the UK intelligence community and the discontinuous, fractious, and contentious experience of the American system.” (Vol. 2, p.314)

This judgment raises the question of whether Davies fully understands the US system. Given the much larger size of the country and its Intelligence Community, there is perhaps more frequent turbulence at the top in the United States, but Davies presents no evidence that this results in operational dysfunction. Davies clarifies his concept of the US Intelligence Community by noting that “not only is analysis particularly central to US intelligence, it stands in sharp contrast with approaches to intelligence in the UK, which typically focus on covert collection as the defining feature of intelligence.” (p. 14) He does not explain why he concludes collection is less important to the Americans, and his own treatment of the Casey years at CIA suggests the opposite. (pp. 286 ff). In any case, his concept will certainly be challenged by US intelligence professionals.

Davies returns to this point in volume 2, where he writes, “The three principal players in the US intelligence community are the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the Defense Department’s Defense Intelligence Agency.” (Vol. 2, p. 5) He may be right if he is referring only to these organizations as sources of intelligence analysis, but if he means the Intelligence Community writ large, itis a surprising statement and raises questions about the other major components of the US community. A final example suggesting he pay more attention to the US community is Davies’ comment that, after 9/11, “if the jihadist threat would ultimately intensify the friction between [US] agencies, it was serving to push the UK’s agencies closer together in an ever more intense and thorough going collegiality.” (Vol. 2, p. 266) This view too is likely to spark cries for evidence from US readers.

The comparisons that are the basic ingredients of this study of intelligence systems, though thoroughly sourced, do not make for easy reading-this work is not a primer. Frequently terminology is hard to follow.

For example, nonsociologists may be perplexed by the comment “That which is ‘distinctive’ about US intelligence culture clearly embodies the optical illusion of the common appearing singular.” (p. 14) On the other hand, Davies’ use of culture as a comparative metric is a useful contribution.

For those seeking to better understand the complexities and differences of both systems, these volumes will serve· as a challenging basis for discussion. They are most worthwhile contributions to the intelligence literature.

[1] Hayden Peake is a frequent reviewer of books on intelligence and this review appeared in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (19, 1, Winter/Spring, 2013, pp. 111-112). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Di recto rate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at

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